Deep State forms part of Science Fiction: New Death, an exhibition in Liverpool's FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology). The exhibition as a whole is "based on new writing" by novelist China Miéville, author of The City & the City (2010), a book I admire enormously. Science Fiction: New Death offers a compelling and heartening example of how literary fiction finds new ways to insist on its relevance to wider contemporary engagements.
At last month's Keats Foundation conference at Keats House, Hampstead ("John Keats and his Circle", 2-4 May 2014), I gave a paper on Keats and surveillance, "Keats in Three Crowds". In it, I explored how anxieties about face recognition – about being a face in a (protesting) crowd – worried writers in 1819. I suggested that Keats's ode "To Autumn" has a deep interest in Romantic surveillance ("who hath not seen thee ..."), and responds to a day of mass protest in London on 13 September 1819, six days before the poem's composition, when radical politician Henry "Orator" Hunt paraded through the city, watched by throngs of 300,000 people.
The aim of the book is to show how literature of the past connected bodily with the materiality of agricultural process, with food supply, security and contamination. What might look to us now like sentimental portrayals of worked land and water – in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare’s King Lear, John Keats’s ode “To Autumn” and Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss – actually encode a nexus of economic and social conditions with much to tell us about our own relation to resources and sustainable practice. In other words, a deep, collaborative engagement between the arts and sciences focused on historical literature can help us to (re-)imagine and cultivate precisely those “other forms of living” explored in Science Fiction: A New Death.